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Presented by State Library Victoria

Tips on How to Write a Short Story

So you may haven’t entered any story writing competitions lately, or you may have. But chances are, the requirements to enter a story competition that most abide is that the word count has got to be about 5000 words or less, some may be higher or lower depending on the competition. But for me, the highest word count I have gotten so far is 5000, the lowest being 500 words (crazy, I know), so I’m going to stick with that.


Short stories can be amazing to write and at the same time be the biggest pain in the butt to write. One advantage is that they’re short, therefore taking less time to write compared to something that rivals the Harry Potter Series. But the downside is that you may need more than 5000 words to write a story where a whole scene out of like 20 scenes takes up a good 2500 words.


When I was a wee lass (give or take five years ago), I was beginning to get into writing and my aspirations of becoming an author were growing stronger and stronger by the day. I was flipping through this kids magazine that distributed throughout the school and I saw an ad that was in the corner, hidden by some other articles, about a story writing competition for kids within my age group. Long story short, I didn’t end up winning. But the one problem that I faced was that how I kept going over the word limit.


It depends on your writing style, but my style is very detailed and in-depth, my English teacher would say.


Exhibit A:


He groaned in relaxation as the showerhead pelted his skin with hot water, the steam that billowed over the glass door fogged up. His reflection gone as it did. Taking a moment from his delightful rain of hot water, he wiped away the steam, seeing his face in the glass door once again.


Exhibit B:


He took a hot shower.


Although this may be a little exaggerated, it is very true about how I have a problem with keeping within the word count. So over the years, I have entered a couple writing competitions here and there over the years and I think I’ve honed my skill as a budding author, compared to me five years ago.


The Tips:


  • Planning is key. No need to go in depth and write paragraphs upon paragraphs for each scene, something you would do for a more long-term project. Just one simple paragraph that sums up the entire story, it should be no more than 500 words.
  • Choose an idea within your budget, your budget being word (it just got tiring saying word count over and over again). So no sci-fi fantasy world where there’s a final boss battle, leave that for something else.
  • Give yourself a time limit. Be realistic and take your schedule into account. For me, since I’m a student, if I were given 2000 words to write, the due date being three months away. I would give myself three weeks to just write. Nothing else, just writing. No editing, nothing. Though try not to pay attention to the word count, but do pay mind if its going way over it.
  • Editing is a huge part of this process. Leave out unnecessary scenes when editing. Ask yourself these questions: Will this scene do anything to help the readers understand? Could it be cut shorter?
  • Answer all questions. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Answer all questions that the reader may have. Ask a friend to read it to see if they have any questions about the story.


That’s all the tips I could think of at 11pm on a school night. Comment if this helped you at all.





I love writing. But I never can finish. Not because I'm too slow. No. I just can't bear to finish the story

1st Apr, 18

mm me too! I can never seem to fit under just 500 words!

5th Jun, 18

I adore writing but the problem is that it takes me about five years to complete one short story, JUST ONE!! I suppose it is like that because I write about one paragraph and then it never makes sense so i stop, then I lose the sheet of paper I was writing on it, and finally discover it... (you would never guess where) In a box... under my bed... covered in old shoes which are three (or five) sizes too small. :A

28th Mar, 19

POST SCRIPT: This advice has really given me an idea of how to make my short narratives a bit more successful for rocky river 'riters and our school's presentation night.

28th Mar, 19